Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Rich People Problems

With all the talk this year about 99 percenters versus 1 percenters, many legitimate questions are raised. Such as, why 99 percent versus 1 percent? How did people in the second percentile (the very very very rich, who are not quite very very very very rich) manage to join the pitchfork wielding mobs? Can the 1 percent be even further split off, so that multimillionaire Theresa Heinz Kerry can storm the gates of billionaire Warren Buffet's mansion? (Considering she likely lives in a nicer home than he does, it'd seem a bit odd).

One common theme is the outright mockery heaped upon rich people who claim that they're not really that rich when you consider their high cost of living. (See item number 6 in this article) It was also laid bare in Tom Wolfe's "Bonfire of the Vanities" where a bond trader making almost a million dollars a year (in the mid-'80s, which is about a trillion dollars a year now) was just barely breaking even due to his lifestyle. Those of us making do on less quite rightly laugh at these pleas--oh, poor little rich person, you can't afford the $50K a year private elementary school for your kids? Have to skip the week in the Hamptons this summer? Boo freaking hoo!

However, in our mockery we should also keep in mind that we middle-income Americans tend to complain about things that would earn the righteous mockery of very poor Americans. I'd complain quite a bit if I couldn't afford to heat my home above 60 degrees in the winter, or could only afford Ramen for dinner (though Ramen is pretty delicious. Just not every night!). Wouldn't a Bangladeshi rope farmer or a New Delhi landfill-dweller see my plight just the same as I'd see Paris Hilton complaining about her chauffeur being out sick?

There's two lessons in this:

1) Everyone should have the right to complain. There's always someone worse off than you, of course, but if we had to go by the standard that we can't complain if someone is relatively worse off then no one could complain about a broken leg so long as someone else out there has been set on fire and left in a pit of ants.

2) When complaining, we should have some perspective, because to someone else we may look just like that rich jerk who complains about having to live off a quarter million dollars a year and cancel their golf club membership. So we can all complain, but our complaints are likely going to be mocked.

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